Cormier told ESPN that he would relinquish his belt before being stripped of the title on Saturday night when a new champion is crowned.
Daniel Cormier is giving up his UFC light heavyweight title before Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson fight for the belt at the UFC 232 headliner on Saturday.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion told ESPN that he would rather give up the 205-pound title as opposed to having it stripped from him when Saturday night's winner is crowned.
"Today I am going to relinquish the UFC light heavyweight title," Cormier told ESPN. "I am not going to be stripped of the belt that I've defended with my all for three and a half years. Being stripped of a title suggests you've done something wrong, and I haven't.
He continued: "I'd rather walk away this way, with my head held high as it always has been, than have the history books say I was stripped. I've defended this title this year. I was approached with the idea of fighting at heavyweight, so I took it. I fought three times in 2018. No champion has been more active than me. I am the fighter of the year. My story and my legacy will not include me being stripped of a title. They can have it."
Cormier (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) lost the belt to Jones in July 2017. The belt was returned to him shortly thereafter when Jones failed a drug test. The 39-year-old fighter then defended the title in January when he fought Volkan Oezdemir before transitioning to heavyweight. He won the heavyweight title in July with a knock out of Stipe Miocic and proceeded to then defend that belt in November when he submitted Derrick Lewis.
The belt would have become vacant once Saturday night's fight began but Cormier said his decision to relinquish the title in advance was done to ensure the transition is recorded in a positive light. UFC president Dana White told MMAjunkie following the UFC 232 weigh-ins that he thought Cormier's decision was "a little dramatic."
“He’s being a little dramatic because of his hatred for Jon Jones," White said. "He would’ve never been stripped. He’s vacating."
White added that he somewhat understood the decision, however, due to his understanding of the rivalry between Cormier and Jones. Jones also commented on the announcement, challenging Cormier to a rematch.
“I heard that he ended up relinquishing his belt, and I think it’s a good look,” Jones said at the UFC 232 weigh-ins show on FS1. “I know most people know he was never the champion. Hat’s off to him for being the heavyweight champion of the world, but I’ve been the light heavyweight champion since 2011. That’s just facts. The belt was given to him. He has not beat me. So he can cancel all doubts by challenging me and really being a legit champ-champ.”
Cormier maintains that he will retire in the spring and has no desire to fight Jones for a third time.